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Indiana, Arkansas Pass Revised Religious Objection Proposals

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs a reworked religious freedom bill into law after it passed in the House at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, April 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Brian Chilson)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs a reworked religious freedom bill into law after it passed in the House at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, April 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Brian Chilson)

ANDREW DeMILLO, Associated Press
TOM DAVIES, Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Lawmakers in Arkansas and Indiana passed legislation Thursday that they hoped would quiet the national uproar over new religious objections laws that opponents say are designed to offer a legal defense for anti-gay discrimination.

The Arkansas House voted 76-17 to adopt a revised bill after Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked for changes in the wake of mounting criticism. Hutchinson signed it only moments after the vote, saying the new version recognizes that “we have a diverse workforce and a diverse culture.”

A parallel process played out at the Indiana Capitol as the House and Senate passed changes to a law signed last week by GOP Gov. Mike Pence, who quickly approved the revisions.

“Over the past week, this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation,” Pence said in a statement. “However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward.”

The new legislation marks the first time sexual orientation and gender identity have been mentioned in Indiana law.

The Arkansas measure is similar to a bill sent to the governor earlier this week, but Hutchinson said he wanted it revised to more closely mirror a 1993 federal law.

The Indiana amendment prohibits service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide goods, services, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service.

The measure exempts churches and affiliated schools, along with nonprofit religious organizations.

Business leaders, many of whom had opposed the law or canceled travel to the state because of it, called the amendment a good first step but said more work needs to be done. Gay-rights groups noted that Indiana’s civil-rights law still does not include LGBT people as a protected class.

Former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, now a senior vice president at drugmaker Eli Lilly, praised the changes but said the state’s image must still be mended.

“The healing needs to begin right now,” he said.

Democratic leaders said the amendment did not go far enough and repeated their calls to repeal the law.

“I want to hear somebody say we made a grave mistake, and we caused the state tremendous embarrassment that will take months, if not years, to repair,” House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said.

The lawmaker behind the original Arkansas proposal backed the changes, saying he believed the law would still protect religious beliefs.

“We’re going to allow a person to believe what they want to believe without the state coming in and burdening that unless they’ve got a good reason to do so,” Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger told the House Judiciary Committee.

Like Pence, Hutchinson faced pressure from the state’s largest employers, including retail giant Wal-Mart. Businesses said the bill would hurt Arkansas’ image. Hutchinson noted that his own son had signed a petition urging him to veto the bill.

After Hutchinson signed the compromise bill, the House voted to recall the original proposal from his desk. Conservative groups said they would have preferred Hutchinson sign the first bill, but they grudgingly backed the revamped measure.

“The bill that’s on the governor’s desk is the Rolls Royce of religious freedom bills. It is a very good bill,” said Jerry Cox, head of the Arkansas Family Council. “The bill that just passed … is a Cadillac.”

The revised Arkansas measure only addresses actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals. Supporters said that would prevent businesses from using it to deny services to individuals. Opponents said they believed the measure still needs explicit anti-discrimination language.

The original bill “gave us a black eye. This bill ices it,” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. “We still need some Tylenol.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group, called the new law an improvement but said it could still be used be used to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

The revised bill also faced opposition from Republicans frustrated over the governor’s request for changes to a proposal he had initially planned to sign.

“I, for one, do not appreciate someone hiding behind this body when they’re unwilling to take a stand one way or the other,” Republican Rep. Josh Miller of Heber Springs said.

Similar proposals have been introduced this year in more than a dozen states, patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, with some differences. Twenty-one states now have comparable laws on the books, including Indiana and Arkansas.

The backlash gave pause to lawmakers in other states considering their own religious freedom proposals.

A divisive bill in Georgia stalled Thursday as the end of the 2015 session approached. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola warned lawmakers against approving “any legislation that discriminates.”

In North Carolina, the House speaker said deliberations over a bill would be slowed to give lawmakers time to determine if the legislation would harm the state’s economy.

A proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution would prohibit the government or any other entity from imposing burdens on religious freedom, potentially opening the door for businesses to refuse to serve gay people on religious grounds.

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Davies reported from Indianapolis.

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Associated Press Writer Allen Reed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activism

Groundbreaking Ceremony for the St. John Missionary Baptist Church Family Life Center

The Family Life Center, a vision of Dr. Kevin B. Hall, pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, is one of many he has for the City of Richmond. It is a multi-million-dollar project the church is undertaking without plans to borrow additional funding. Future visions of St. John and Pastor Hall include shelter for the homeless, affordable housing for seniors and temporary housing for the formerly incarcerated as part of a re-entry program.

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Deacon Edward Kimble, Cory Holloway, Deacon Art Johnson, Pastor Kevin B. Hall, Kaliyah Hall, Richmond City Councilman Demnlus Johnson and Deacon Steve Porter. Photo by: Joe L. Fisher
Deacon Edward Kimble, Cory Holloway, Deacon Art Johnson, Pastor Kevin B. Hall, Kaliyah Hall, Richmond City Councilman Demnlus Johnson and Deacon Steve Porter. Photo by: Joe L. Fisher

By Peggy Alexander

Dr. Kevin B. Hall, pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, and church leaders were joined by Richmond City Council members, congregants, and residents of Richmond’s Iron Triangle community to celebrate the official groundbreaking of the St. John Family Life Center at 29 Eight St. on July 16.

The Family Life Center, a vision of Pastor Hall’s, is one of many he has for the City of Richmond. It is a multi-million-dollar project the church is undertaking without plans to borrow additional funding. Future visions of St. John and Pastor Hall include shelter for the homeless, affordable housing for seniors and temporary housing for the formerly incarcerated as part of a re-entry program.

“The Family Life Center will be adjacent to the current sanctuary at the North Campus, which will consist of a gymnasium, game room (for the youth), and weight room.” It will be a positive, safe space for community members and congregants to have fun and fellowship. Also, an additional parking lot will be across the street from the St. John Family Life Center. The estimated completion time is 12 to 18 months.

The official groundbreaking ceremony was conducted by the following church leaders, youth and council members: Pastor Hall; deacons Arthur Johnson, Edward Kimball, and Steven Porter; trustee Sister Corry Holloway; Audio-Visual Youth Ministry member Kaliyah Hall, granddaughter of Pastor Hall; and Richmond City Councilmember Demnlus Johnson.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, earth was shoveled three times in unison by the participants. Many were in attendance at the morning ceremony.

St John is one church located in two communities (662 S. 52nd St. and 29 Eighth St.). Our goal is to share the love of God by evangelizing the sinner and equipping the Saints who are edifying and enjoying one another, to exalt the Savior. Please come worship with us.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: Abortion — A Theological Issue and Christian Responses

The abortion debate has profound implications on how theological views are preached and taught in individual churches, homes including seminaries. The pews are split. Some say abortion is murder, while others say, the woman has a right to control her body. This leads to the question: How does your faith shape your position on abortion? What Bible passages do you cite to justify your position?

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Rev. Dr. Martha C Taylor
Rev. Dr. Martha C Taylor

By Rev. Dr. Martha C. Taylor

We are living in a world where controversial, complex issues, disagreements, debates, misunderstandings are looming large. There are controversies on gun control, vaccines, living wages, Black lives matter, animal rights, religious freedom, health care, white supremacy, voting rights, Trump, Ukraine War, Covid spreading, mass killings and the congressional January 6th sedition hearings, to name a few.

In an earth-shattering decision on June 24, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. Justice Alito wrote “Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views. Some believe fervently that a human person comes into being at conception and that abortion ends an innocent life. Others feel just as strongly that any regulation of abortion invades a woman’s right to control her own body and prevents women from achieving full equality.

Still others in a third group think that abortion should be allowed under some, but not all circumstances, and those within this group hold a variety of views about the particular restrictions that should be imposed. The Court’s decision held that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion, and going forward, abortion rights will be determined by each state. In. other words, abortion does not automatically become illegal nationwide, however in states that ban abortion, it could result in a felony and doctors could face prison time.

The abortion debate has profound implications on how theological views are preached and taught in individual churches, homes including seminaries. The pews are split. Some say abortion is murder, while others say, the woman has a right to control her body. This leads to the question: How does your faith shape your position on abortion? What Bible passages do you cite to justify your position?

Some profess to preach and teach a prophetic liberating gospel, yet when it comes to the theological and moral issue of abortion, they take a stance that they will not make a comment in public. This raises the question of who really speaks for the church. Can bishops, pastors, lay ministers, elders, and Sunday School teachers be expected to reflect the thinking of the membership? Does the membership dictate what can be preached? In the words of a well-known pastor, do we just deal with the sweet now and now, and not the nasty now and now? I believe he got it right. Are you a prophet who will speak on difficult sensitive subjects, or do you skirt them in favor of not upsetting the pews with realities that may be painful to some?

We must deal with moral sensitive issues without injuring the freedom of women. I believe the question of whether the church should be involved in social and political issues is not that difficult. The more difficult is why it should be involved and how, and more importantly using scripture to justify their position. What about those who take scripture as a means of justifying their position on moral issues. History informs us that enslaved women were forced to have sex with their slave masters as a means of birthing more slaves; the slave owners used the scripture, “slaves obey your masters.”

With regards to abortion, some declare that God said abortion is murder, though they cannot find a thread of evidence in the bible to back their statement and rely on the commandment “thou shalt not kill.” Some pastors have interpreted scripture to say, God does not want a woman preaching or teaching. Some pastors are taking scripture out of context on the pretext that the Lord is speaking, when it is highly possible their interpretation is a misinterpretation. This all suggests that people sometimes appeal to the Bible and other religious sources in selective and self-serving ways: They come to the Bible with their previously held moral assumptions and seek to find something in the Bible to justify them. The Bible does not talk explicitly about abortion, pro or con in any kind of way. It’s just not there.

Overturning Roe assumes that some life, some bodies, are worth more than others — that some bodies can and should be restricted, controlled and used at will.

In the coming months as states create new abortion restrictions, the same kind of underground movement of women searching for safe abortions most likely will become a reality again. Will Christians accompany these women? Or, will the loudest Christian response to abortion continue to be the Religious Right, shouting from their place of privilege, piety and power? Dr. Obery Hendricks, biblical scholar and activist reminds us, “some Black Christians can be some of the most religiously conservative people in America.”

Continue to pray for Brittney Grimes, our daughter, sister, friend.

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Jehovah’s Witnesses Returning to In-Person Meetings

The move back to in-person meetings coincided with two global events being held in all 120,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first was a special lecture scheduled in most congregations for April 10, 2022, entitled “Where Can You Find Real Hope?” Additionally, the annual commemoration of the death of Jesus Christ was held on April 15, 2022, the very day he sacrificed his life 1,989 years ago. Both of these gatherings were held in person at local Kingdom Halls with live speakers. No collections are ever taken.

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For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses go to jw.org.
For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses go to jw.org.

After Two Years Virtual, Congregations Are Meeting Together Again

All congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide were encouraged to resume in-person meetings last month.

The announcement to return to the Kingdom Hall was a pleasant and long-awaited surprise. “My initial thought was excitement,” said Andrena Morris, an Oakland resident who has been attending meetings for over 40 years. She treasures the love and unity felt when connecting with fellow congregants in person. Being at the meetings is vital for her. “It’s like a spiritual lifeline,” Morris said.

For most of the last two years, buildings for worship have remained closed globally due to the risks associated with meeting in person. Jehovah’s Witnesses in the U.S. also suspended their public ministry on March 20, 2020. Since that time, they have carried on their ministry through letters and phone calls while holding twice-weekly meetings in a virtual format. Average attendance at these meetings exceeded 1.5 million each week in the U.S., even though there are fewer than 1.3 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in some 13,000 congregations.

“There is a collective shout of joy among Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world right now,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “While we have prospered in many ways as individuals and congregations using technology to bring us together, nothing can adequately replace being together in person. We have longed for this moment for the better part of two years.”

The move back to in-person meetings coincided with two global events being held in all 120,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first was a special lecture scheduled in most congregations for April 10, 2022, entitled “Where Can You Find Real Hope?” Additionally, the annual commemoration of the death of Jesus Christ was held on April 15, 2022, the very day he sacrificed his life 1,989 years ago. Both of these gatherings were held in person at local Kingdom Halls with live speakers. No collections are ever taken.

“The timing of resuming in-person meetings could not be better,” said Hendriks. “Bringing everyone back together for these special events will have a powerful effect on the worldwide congregation.”

Guidelines for holding “hybrid” meetings have been sent to all congregations in the United States. Over the past six months, many Kingdom Halls have been equipped with the required technology to hold a productive meeting that allows for in-person and remote attendees, all of whom can participate in the discussions.

A pilot program was held in October and November 2021 in countries around the world to assess how this could be done most effectively. The lessons learned in these pilot meetings have helped form the plan for moving forward with reopening all Kingdom Halls, where the law permits.

“It has been heartwarming to see the peace and unity among Jehovah’s Witnesses during this very divisive time,” said Hendriks. “We know resuming in-person meetings will bring us even closer together. We’re anxious to see one another again.”

Anticipating seeing her spiritual family in person, Morris became emotional. “The biggest thing I remember as we headed to the Kingdom Hall was seeing the parking lot full of cars,” said Morris. “I could just feel my heart stir.”

As of now, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no plans to resume their public ministry, though their “alternative” ministry continues. In fact, since the start of the pandemic through November 2021 in the U.S. alone, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent more than 400 million hours in virtual Bible studies, writing letters of comfort to their neighbors and making phone calls.

They have released 77 new language translations of the Bible and held two global virtual conventions in more than 500 languages.

“No time was wasted in the past two years,” said Hendriks. “Our congregants have been busy and productive helping each other and their neighbors through this most challenging time. That’s what love and unity are all about.”

For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses go to jw.org.

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